We, in that vague area of the blogosphere we could call the libertarian centre right, like to pat ourselves on the back as the rationalists of the sphere, as distinct from the left-liberals and socialists who argue from broad brush strokes and emotion rather than from micro-stats. and other data.
On site I always point to for a man who lets stats do his talking, is Wat Tyler, of Burning our Money.
Why is it then, that when these so-called rationalists among us are confronted by Christian history, they go into some sort of automatic apoplectic denial, claiming “it’s been disproved” and “everyone knows it’s myth”?
No they don’t and when I’ve pushed my fellow rationalist centre-right libertarian all round good guys, they’ve muttered, gruffly “Well we just don’t know, do we?”
Sir Norman Anderson, describing himself as "an academic from another discipline who has browsed widely in the writings of contemporary theologians and biblical scholars, wrote in Lawyer Among Theologians, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1973, p15, about the quality of the criticism of the anti-Christian so-called intellectuals:
"At times [I am] astonished by the way in which they handle their evidence, by the presuppositions and a priori convictions with which some of them clearly (and even, on occasion, on their own admission) approach the documents concerned, and by the positively staggering assurance with which they make categorical pronouncements on points which are, on any showing, open to question, and on which equally competent colleagues take a diametrically opposite view."
That's precisely my contention.
What is evidence? In terms of history, I’ve always defined it as a document from the particular period we’re talking about. So, in the case of Christianity, that means that the writings of Josephus and Tacitus are documents and the synoptic gospels are also documents, as are the gnostic writings of the time. They were written, it’s not seriously contested that these things were written, therefore they are documents.
A document of the time, used to support or deny a propostion is evidence. Admittedly there is good and bad evidence but they’re still evidence.
So I’m amazed at a fellow rationalist who said, in a dismissive way, “I don’t accept that as evidence.”
‘But you have to because they are attested documents.”
“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want and they’re not evidence.”
How can one deal with that statement, especially as the fellow rationalist considers he’s the most reasoned of men and bases arguments only on available data, which he ordinarily does, with great perspicacity ……. except on this issue.
History will always be revised, as and when new facts come to light and that’s fine. Where it’s not fine is when the existing historical record, which has neither been added to nor subtracted from for millennia, is “revised” in order to support a contention more in line with new thinking.
In other words, selectively twisting the facts round to support a contention which a political position requires.
This is precisely what has happened with the dating of the synoptic gospels. I can point to the first ten pages of Google, flooded with late-dating “arguments”, presenting themselves as “scientific” analysis but which are there for solely political purposes or assuming a certain position before they even start.
It comes out particularly in the language used, the vocabulary utilized and one of the greatest giveaways is someone who employs the PC terminology CE or BCE – common era or before the common era.
This is an automatic giveaway for to use these terms means you were educated post-1969 when the PC socialism really kicked in and produced the educational situation we see all about us today. Anyone educated in this era is going to claim that his education was just as good as any earlier era but it simply is not – it refers to a restricted book list for a start and in wider reading, haivng been academically raised this way and into this mode of thinking, the neo-historian is only going to reinforce his perspective with similar titles which more than likely were gleaned from bibliographies at the end of “learned” articles which themselves follow the new thinking.
It takes an incredibly open minded person to go into pre-1969 material with an unjaundiced eye and I don’t accept that a person who employs BCE is bias-neutral. The whole point of BCE is that it denies BC – before Christ. In other words, it cuts out Jesus Christ.
Our neo-historian would not even have addressed the issue because it has never been presented to him to be addressed in the first place. The apporved reading list uses BCE and so he just tacitly accepts that as a done deal. When he encounters BC, he puts it down to the now-exploded thinking of a bygone, discredited era.
Being part of the mainstream educational arena, one encounters this type of thing all the time, quite unquestioned by the majority of the young academics of today. If it was questioned, they’d see themselves either “re-educated’ or marginalized, something which occurred to Ruth Malholtra in America who didn’t toe the feminist-PC line and was treated shamefully and labelled hate-monger, bigot and all the other labels in the PC grab-bag, all for claiming that university courses are brainwashing students.
As I wrote above, the chances of any new rationalist of this era dispassionately examining evidence is almost nil.
So why bother? Well, why bother doing anything? If I don’t believe in gnosis, should that stop me examining and studying it, willing to allow something vaild to seep into the knowledge base in the brain? If I claim any sort of rationality – it should not stop me coming to the table with at least a willingness to consider an argument.
There are things it’s as well to know before we even embark on this debate, to bring us up to speed, so to speak. Just as in deciding which is the better guitar – a Gibson or a Fender, it’s an idea to see what is the current state of thinking.
The anti-Christians, that big tent which encompasses strange bedfellows, would at least allow me to say that the current thinking is that the gospels are late dated. As mentioned above, Google presents an overwhelming number of pro-late dating sites which are quite caustic and can’t conceal their hostility towards early-dating or “correct dating” in my terms.
Early-dating was the historical stance before the enlightenment revisionists got to the debate and hijacked it. You’ll find very few sources these days on the net for early-dating and the man who consistently comes up is John A. T. Robinson, a most maligned, marginalized and vilifies man – you know the way it goes for those with unpopular opinions.
Thus we get “the overwhelming views of historians today” which contains such assumptions that boggle the mind of the scholar. Since when do sheer numbers establish a proposition rather than a well argued point of view? Since when does the political hijacking of a debate constitute the establishment of a universal truth?
You’ll see below that John Robinson had critical claim for his research but it was passed over for publication and is almost never discussed on campus these days. Not only that, but he was character assassinated and it’s claimed he only has one argument in support of his contention. More than that, it’s claimed that he had no support for his contentions, again that populist claim, whereas, in fact he had quite a deal of eminent support, itself ignored today.
This is sheer intellectual dishonesty.
I don’t mind if I can put my argument up and it is disproved, as long as I could put my argument up in the first place, unedited, unexpurgated and not covered with strawmen from the opposition, before it even begins. But when the opposition asks publishing houses not to print my argument, when the oppostion claims it’s had a wideranging forum where it was dispassionately examined and found wanting when it clearly bloody wasn’t, then this is plain dishonest and that gets my blood boiling.
I detest this sort of dishonesty and we see it all the time today in these devalued times.
Why is there such ferocity over the seemingly dry, intellectual irrelevancy of the dating of the gospels? Because they are far form irrelevant. Around this crucial issue lies the whole foundation of Christianity and the efficacy of the Logos. This is a point Muslims will kill for and other faiths, along with the global socialists, will fight to the death to discredit.
So please don’t be fooled by any seemingly intellectual discourse form someone who employs the terms CE and BCE – what, in fact, you’re getting, is a very political campaign indeed and the target is the millions of still practising Christians, mainly in Catholic nations. it’s a fight for the hearts and minds of men and women.
Part 2 concerns John A. T. Robinson himself.